Microsoft's Nadella & Unconscious Bias toward Women

My phone has been incessantly beeping with messages asking me about my opinion regarding the outrageous statement made by Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella while speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday, October 9, 2014. A woman in the audience asked Nadella how women should go about asking for a raise to which he replied:

"It's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise. ... That might be one of the initial 'super powers,' that quite frankly, women who don't ask for a raise have."

Needless to say, the fall out from this ridiculous comment continues, as it should. Nadella and Microsoft have been desperately trying to take back this statement, but there are no do-overs in today's world of electronic communication transferring information in a nanosecond. To be fair, Nadella is guilty of a very common unconscious bias all women face in the work force. Allow me to provide another example of an unconscious bias - one I experienced the day after Nadella's faux pax.

Last week I was the sole woman sitting at a table during a conference I was speaking at. During the beginning of a facilitation exercise, one of the men at my table immediately turned to me and asked if I would be the "secretary" for the exercise, with the others shaking their head in agreement. Immediately I replied with a smile and said: "NO - I don't think so. Just because I'm the only woman at this table doesn't mean I'm going to play secretary!" Anyone who has ever known me knows I have never played by these sexual stereotypical roles - ever! I'm certainly not about to start now!!! But I digress.

Again, to be fair, the man who made the above request meant no harm, truly, it was an innocuous request - but that is exactly my point! It is amazing how easily unconscious biases creep into our thoughts and beliefs regarding women, especially women in the work place!

My second thought about Nadella's blunder relates to the power of words. The day following Nadella's comment I was speaking about the topic of Emotional Intelligence and its Influence on Leadership. During my presentation I was discussing the intrinsic relationship between those with a high level of emotional intelligence and its direct correlation on effective leadership. Every great leader, bar none, has been a great communicator -- and at the core of communication are words (whether it is the spoken word or on-line!)

As a matter of fact, the more emotionally charged a situation is, the more imperative it is you choose your words carefully. Why? Because as I mentioned above - there are no do-overs! You cannot take back words once they have been spoken, no matter how hard you try, no matter how many press releases you release, no matter how many apologies you offer.

What Nadella said in his interview about women not asking for raises, and how he considered that to be perhaps a women's "super power" (what? seriously?) are thoughts and statements indicative of the unconscious biases women face in business day after day, often going undetected because they fly under the radar. The difference here is that Nadella's statement was made in full view into an open microphone for all to hear.

Perhaps Nadella did women a favor last week by uncovering an unconscious bias women place in the work force? Now it is up to us, all of us, men and women alike, to begin an honest open discussion to correct these biases, instead of continuing the same old politically correct conversations about how wrong it is to treat men and women differently. Talk without action is an exercise in futility!

Dr. Patty Ann Tublin